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News

2010

It is now February 2010 with rain sometimes replacing snow but the warm and sunny weather seems far away.  Looking back, activities during the year varied greatly owing to the wide variation in our weather, and the demands of running a museum occupying a large rural site, (where trimming the grass and scrub is as important as attending to exhibits) but our stalwart volunteers persevered with outdoor and indoor tasks.  Visitors were also undeterred and we saw a 10% increase over 2008 to exceed 35,000.  The Buck Inn next to our front gate enjoyed the growth in trade on these occasions but a couple of times had to turn away disappointed customers.  Many visitors to the museum plan for a whole day and it is very convenient to have the public house on our doorstep for a nice lunch and/or dinner; local bed-and-breakfast venues also do well.   For those of a certain age it might be of interest that Alan Breeze, the singer in the Billy Cotton Band, owned the pub from 1959 to 1975.  His daughter Michele has just written a fascinating biography of her father (The Singer In The Band), including their life in Flixton, and this private publication is on sale from the museum shop at £8.99 plus UK postage of £2. 

The major project of the year was the construction of a new display hall - named the Ken Wallis Hall in honour of our President of 34 years - which provides almost an extra 5,000 sq. feet.  50% of the funding came from museum reserves, adding to grants from several bodies including Suffolk County Council, plus donations from visitors and members.  The final fitting out was achieved just before the Christmas break.  We are now moving exhibits around to relieve congestion in the two hangars and leaving sufficient space for future exhibits we know about, including a Battle of Britain Hurricane fuselage.   The most important entrant so far is the restored Wallbro Monoplane replica - the original was built Ken’s father and uncle between 1908 and 1910 and flew near Cambridge.  This building work also provided the opportunity to create two new parking areas, the main one being adjacent to the Adair Walk entrance; this is our raised boardwalk through a Willow plantation down to the river Waveney and named after the Adair family.  (The magnificent Flixton Hall was the Adair Family Seat until it was demolished in the 1950s - nowadays it would have been preserved.)  The first section of the walk is an “avenue of remembrance” for members and visitors who have lost loved-ones and like to plant memorial trees. 

A much smaller extension was built next to the shop.  Previously a parking spot for the Mercury aircraft tug, the area was boarded up and roofed to create a new display area and it houses an impressive “Modeller’s Room” - contents circa 1950/1960s - plus there are large displays of aviation badges and patches.  The room will be very familiar to visitors who are of the age to have enjoyed such activities during those years as it contains a large selection of aircraft kits and many types of aircraft models to illustrate how materials and construction methods have changed.  Shelves and the floor are crammed with the stuff that young boys collected and treasured during these times.  Not an iPod or Wii in sight and young visitors can sometimes be heard to wonder how children survived in those days without them!  The room compliments the 1940s cottage interior and WWII Home Front display area that were constructed last year, and received very imaginative displays by Huby Fairhead.  Much of the space in the new extension to our Air-Sea Rescue building is already taken up with a large collection of models of ASR high speed launches, and another extension is not beyond possibility in time.   

A team spent most of the year working on the exterior of our Vickers Valetta to combat some corrosion, and to repaint the aircraft.  Research produced details of the emergency/first aid contents of the compartment in the main door; we are grateful to RAF Museum Cosford, plus visitors Graham Seymour and Stan Dixon for their help.  Many years ago we acquired an undercarriage leg and tyre from the North East Aircraft Museum (NEAM) when their Valetta example was vandalised so were pleased to offer it to the Vintage Aircraft Club at Basle Airport, Switzerland, so that their impressive restoration of Vickers Viking G-AIVG could, literally, get off the ground!  The aircraft lost both undercarriage legs in a landing accident in 1953 and the search for the ultra rare replacement components had been abandoned.  A member of the group made contact and asked if we could identify an engineer who might undertake the difficult task of making a new set so I was happy to declare what we had in storage.  NEAM has agreed to release the leg and, once this is delivered to us at Flixton, transportation to Basle will be organised.  Needless to say, our new friends in Basle are very excited at the prospect of the aircraft supporting itself again in the near future after so many years, and the world will gain a fine example of a rare breed thanks to their superb efforts.  

It has been our pleasure to provide assistance overseas in other ways in recent months.  Ray Kidd, our Link Trainer guru has provided technical help to the new Sri Lanka Air Force Museum to enable their D4 variant of this early pilot training aid to function.  He also provided similar guidance to several UK collections, along with some components.   An unusual example of the Link Trainer was offered to us by a person in Argentina but transportation would be too costly for us to consider.  We were also approached by the FWA at Fort Rinella in Malta for a Royal Observer Corps plotting instrument and table, an urgent need to complete a new display on the RAF/Observer Corps activities in Malta during WWII.  Ray Allard the Keeper of our ROC collection (and ex-ROC member) was pleased to gift a complete example he owned and will be a guest in Malta later in the year.

During the warmer months, members took on the regular task of repainting several aircraft presently outdoors, having attended to any deterioration beforehand, and the V-bomber trio of cockpits received attention.  The Vulcan main door was repaired, damaged glazing replaced, then the nose stripped, repaired and repainted.  Both the Victor and Valiant noses gained wheeled stands for better access and viewing.  Much needs to be done with the latter, which is more or less only a flight deck, but all three will ultimately regain equipment and fittings presently in store.  The cockpit of the Avro Anson was emptied so that a thorough inspection could take place.  Non-relevant instruments and equipment were removed and authentic replacements sourced.  Sections of the wooden interior required replacement as they were of inferior quality from a very early restoration attempt, although the best that could be achieved some 30 years ago when the derelict/damaged airframe was rescued from Norwich Airport.  Work will continue this year by member Colin Breach - resting from working on the Link Trainers - and we look forward to the cockpit being restored to its original layout. 

Member David Dawson stripped the replica Wallbro Monoplane, replaced damaged fabric and fittings where necessary, repainted it Cambridge Blue as per the original and re-assembled it.  I am grateful to Mike Petty who carefully researched copies of Cambridge newspapers from 1908 (when the brothers started on their quest) for reports on the original Wallbro Monoplane and several were found in 1909 and 1910.  From one extract I was able to pin down the first flight (albeit un-intentioned it seems!) to 4 July 1910 so we plan to celebrate the centenary this year with input from the builder/pilot of the superb replica, Wing Commander Ken Wallis.  The loss of the flying machine, due to a fierce storm that demolished the hangar and contents, was probably the one reported in December of that year.  The design was unusual and perhaps the first in the UK to employing steel tube (the material used by the builders for their flourishing motorcycle business) for the fuselage, and the wings incorporate ailerons, when wing-warping was much more the norm. 

David Dawson also took on the task of completing the build, and painting of “161” - the prototype amphibian home-build aircraft created by the late Bill Goldfinch (of Colditz Glider design fame) and taxied just before is death.  The British Aviation Preservation Council registered it as BAPC 302 during the year.  In accordance with Bill’s recorded wishes, it is now painted silver and blue, and the stylised badge of the 69th Infantry Division US Army is on the fin (? also television’s Sgt Bilko’s shoulder patch) - they liberated Colditz Castle in April 1945.  There are more details in earlier reports but this number was simply adopted from the numbered plans Bill had obtained for making the Jodel-style wings.   The fuselage and float designs owe much to the Loening OA-1 and Grumman Duck.  His daughter Susan and some old friends hope to visit this year to view it. 

Bill was not one to talk about “the war” so his personal details are scarce but he was made a prisoner-of-war after his Sunderland flying boat crashed off Greece.  He was in numerous German camps before Colditz, including Stalag Luft III (featured in the film “The Great Escape”) and I hope to research information.  We have a large collection of photographs taken in several camps, mostly concert parties and sporting events in Stalag Luft III, so he may be present.  Something of Bill’s story was featured in Wingspan International No.1 (July/August 2000) and we hope to acquire a copy.

Pucara A-528 Toto Juan also received a lot of attention to remove corrosion still active from the sea passage as deck cargo from the Falklands back in 1982.  Some skin panels have been replaced, and member Al Forman has almost completely rebuilt the rudder.  It is a very striking aeroplane and we have tried to retain an authentic camouflage scheme from photographs taken on capture, except that a couple of small areas on the tail and rudder, that had been missed by the Argentine AF during the conflict, have been painted by us for protection.  Thanks to John Allen of Poole for pictures of the aircraft on board. 

Ken Huckle has now almost completed his recreation of the cockpit/nose of Canberra PR3 WE168, installing all the original equipment and instruments salvage by the previous owner when his cherished possession was vandalised some years ago.   This is on a wheeled frame and has been built as a walk/sit-in exhibit for visitors.  We are grateful to Doug J Smith who sent photographs showing the sad destruction of this gate-guardian aircraft at Manston in March 1990. 

Work on some of our vehicles commenced late in the year and will last for a few more months.  Our second Mercury tug (Chassis number 5045 and circa early 1950s) possibly used for airport baggage trains, and a heavy version of the Clarkat (ex WWII USAAF) are presently in bits for complete restoration; the latter will certainly be back in running order.  Most of the work is split between David Dawson, Terry Elvy, Bob Palfreman and Roger Hellen.  Our early example of the heli-portable Aktiv Snowtrack FFR ST4 tracked cargo vehicle was also given a run to keep it in trim.  This was fully restored for us a few years back by Philip Chatfield and re-painted in original Arctic 45 Commando livery – his father had been responsible in the Royal Marines for developing transport and general hardware for the Corps from the 50s to the 70s and had much to do with such vehicles.  

Events during the year were very well attended, with one or two at full capacity for car parking.  A growing number of car clubs are attracted to our site and what it offers, with their vehicles being admired by visitors.  Club members can also enjoy the surroundings plus a full lunch in the Buck Inn.  Our biggest annual event is RAFA Day – see events page – with up to 4,000 people attending.  The ROC “At Home” Day in September runs a close second.   We have never charged admission to the museum or events but do encourage donations.  

Pam Veale our Education Officer has roped in colleagues to help with the growing number of school visits, usually following receipt of a Loan Box from us full of WWII memorabilia.  Children follow a set programme that includes entry to the Valetta (rear facing seats always confuses them!) and Sea Prince for presentations, ending with a “flight” in a Link Trainer.  They cherish the authenticated map we give them afterwards, showing the route of their “flight” as recorded by the “crab”; often similar to the track of a tipsy spider!   Being asked to lead a workshop at Duxford this month shows that Pam’s efforts are worthwhile and can encourage growing interest by other museums in adopting such activities.  Our visits to residential care homes take place whenever possible and the feedback from them shows that the few hours spent by members with a selection of WWII Home Front and personal artefacts generate interest and conversation for days after we have left.   All very rewarding. 

Member Telford Thompson set about acquiring flying club/unit badges and patches from around the world, and concentrated upon the Civil Air Patrol in the U.S.  As the museum possesses a rare Fairchild F.24 C8F that served on Base 17 of the CAP during WWII on East Coast protection duties, and has restored it as such, perhaps this helped because the interest shown by the CAP has been truly phenomenal.  We are extremely grateful for this support and the background display to accompany the aircraft will be magnificent - thus educating visitors on the heroic role performed by the volunteer civilian pilots in the early days that laid the foundation for the impressive national organisation that exists today.

Whilst comments so far have been positive and on a high note, it is sad to record the passing of Alan Hague, our  Curator for many years.  Alan was one of our earliest members and made a considerable contribution over the years that followed.  His very great interest was the history of the 446th Bomb Group USAAF, one-time residents in WWII of the local Flixton/Bungay airfield - his knowledge of the subject was formidable - and he continued to care for the artefacts in our 446th BG Museum building up to his last visit late in the year.  He will be greatly missed by us all.  Huby Fairhead is now our museum Curator, and Lester Curtis dons the role of being the main contact for the 446th BG Association across the pond, representing us at their annual reunions each May.

A disappointing occasion in 2010 will be the demise of the excellent courses provided under the British Aviation Preservation Council banner.  The Lottery-funded National Aviation Heritage Skills Initiative team, generously accommodated on Duxford airfield by the IWM, expects to fold around mid-year if a new funding source (or sources) cannot be found soon.  These City & Guilds accredited courses cover a vast range of aviation subjects, including Metal Skin Repairs, Fabric Repairs, Wooden Aircraft Repairs, Aircraft Structures, Dismantling & Assembly, Jacking/Lifting & Towing.  Nowhere else can the aviation museum volunteer (often enthusiastic but unskilled) gain such knowledge (safely) outside of the Services or the aircraft industry.   Several of our members have achieved 10 City & Guilds passes as a result and many others a lesser number.  Should an aviation-minded benefactor read this plea, who can spare £100k-200k over the next 5 years or so and would wish to help improve the skills of the many unpaid volunteers who give vital support to museums/collections that preserve this country’s rich aviation heritage, then please step forward as soon as possible before all is lost!

Finally, we were awarded full Museum Accredited status by the Museums Libraries Archives Council late in the year and this national mark of excellence was received with great satisfaction.

   
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